Obituary: Judith Elizabeth Nixon

Judith Elizabeth Nixon, a former longtime resident of Rock Island and supporter of the theater and music arts, died April 6 of complications from COPD in Appleton, WI, near her home in Baileys Harbor, WI. She was 77.

Born in Rock Island, IL, December 1, 1945, and raised on 38th Street in a contemporary home built by her parents, Judy gained her love of music and local theater from her family. Her mother, Betty, served as promotion director for the Quad City Symphony, a leader of numerous theater and civic groups in the Quad Cities, and hosted a Sunday night radio program playing classical favorites and interviewing musicians. Her father, Dale Stevens, was a technical editor at John Deere and Company and an actor in many local theater productions at the Playcrafters Barn Theater in Moline.

Judy received her education—from kindergarten through high school—at the now closed St. Katherine’s in Davenport, IA, an all-girls school, graduating in May 1963 with honors. Classmates recognized her musical talents, often calling on her to play her guitar and sing during many school functions. And with the encouragement of her parents, Judy took up acting in several school plays. 

Throughout her early school years, every summer her parents took Judy and her siblings on family vacations to Hayward, WI, where Judy fell in love with northern Wisconsin, vowing that one day she would make her home there. 

In the fall of 1963, following her graduation from St. Katherine’s, Judy enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder, majoring in English and Theater. With the Beat Movement fading and the Coffee House “scene” emerging, the Rocky Mountains became the perfect backdrop for Judy to continue singing and playing guitar and ignoring her studies, to the concernment of her parents. In an extremely early winter storm, even by by Colorado standards, she grabbed a guitar and hiked to an off-campus “beer and coffee house,” taking the stage and playing folk songs by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. It was there she met her future husband, Steve Gragg, who accompanied her on stage. Shortly after the two became know as “Steve and Stevie,” appearing at other Boulder venues throughout the winter of 1963-1964.

Judy left the University of Colorado after the spring semester and married Steve in a ceremony at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Rock Island. The two relocated to Lubbock, TX, where Steve was employed as a golf pro, and had their first child, Ashley, that December. In the spring of 1965, the young family moved to Overland Park, KS,  where Steve had taken a position at a country club and, in October, had their second child, Stephenson. In 1966 Judy returned to the Quad-Cities when Steve became golf pro at the Rock Island Arsenal Country Club. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1971. 

Newly divorced, and raising two young children, Judy immersed herself in learning new skills, becoming a licensed Realtor and a top performer for the Boeye Real Estate Company in Rock Island, and serving as vice president for the local board of Realtors. At the time, she owned a dachshund named “Frankfurter,” who was featured in a national magazine for surviving a harrowing three-week ordeal where he was trapped underground. Her love for pets continued until her death, raising Boxers, Rottweilers, and showing her Portuguese Water Dogs in national competition. She also returned to acting and her love of music, playing the lead in several productions at Play crafters and continuing her support of the Quad City Symphony. 

Judy became engaged to Robert Nixon, Jr., owner of Davenport Machine and Foundry, in 1977. The two were married in June 1978 and together renovated a home in Rock Island. During that time, Judy took up a new career becoming a certified court reporter, transcribing court proceedings at the Rock Island Courthouse. She was intrigued by the work and, together with another court reporter, published a reference manual for new court stenographers. She possessed an unusually high-IQ but never boasted about her membership in Mensa International, which she completed on a bet with her husband Bob.

Judy and Bob were skilled at designing, building, and decorating their residences. Following her parents deaths, the two completely renovated the family home she had grown up in, known as “Rhapsody,” on 38th Street. Later, they purchased a neglected log cabin on Kangaroo Lake in Door County, WI, completely renovating it themselves during repeated trips to the area. Along with her sister, Becky, and husband, John, she and Bob purchased a dilapidated home on Ambergris Caye, an Island in Belize. 

“Judy loved to travel, her family, friends, dogs, reading, jigsaw puzzles, ice cream and cookies,” said her sister, Becky. “She hated exercise, bad grammar, most vegetables, and being late.”  According to her daughter, Ashley, she was an excellent cook. “She could always find the best food wherever she was. We called her the Food Beagle.”

In 2005, Judy and Bob built their retirement home in a community near Phoenix. They lived there through April, but would return each May to the cabin on Kangaroo Lake in Baileys Harbor and spend summers there, attending the outdoor theater productions by the Northern Sky Theater, and introducing visitors and family to fish boils and local cuisine.

When Bob died in September of 2009, Judy made the decision to move to Baileys Harbor year round, selling the home in Phoenix and purchasing a four season home in town, while spending summers at the cabin on Kangaroo Lake. Some mornings Judy could be spotted paddling around the lake in her bright yellow kayak with her Portuguese Water Dog, Bravo.

When she wasn’t in Door County, she was traveling the world, visiting Alaska; traveling down the Amazon; exploring England; or cruising through the Panama Canal. “She had a great appreciation of fine art in all forms,” said Ashley. “And even some sports, taking up snow skiing in her 30’s. She did, however, quit golf ‘for life’ after carding a legitimate birdie on the 17th hole at the Arsenal Golf Club.”

Judy is survived by her children, Ashley Gragg-Todd, Golden, Co; Stephenson Gragg, Bettendorf, IA; four grandchildren: Aubrie Sanchez, Columbus, OH; Gabrielle Gragg, Bettendorf, IA, Ian Gragg, Rock Island, IL, and Brennan Gragg, Moline, IL; and three siblings: Becky Stevens, Corpus Christi, TX; Chris Stevens, Old Orchard Beach, ME; and Robert Stevens, Des Moines, IA.  A private memorial service will be held in Door County, WI. Memorials may be made to the Northern Sky Theater.